Last weekend was Purim on the Jewish calendar, and while I’m way too goy to have a real megillah, I did open my Bible and read the book of Esther. Down through the ages, Esther hasn’t drawn a lot of attention from Christian commentators, but there is an extensive literature of Jewish commentary on it. It would be interesting to know what the church fathers and the medievals would have done with the rich imagery of this book, but the paper trail just isn’t big. Where would these ingenious Christian interpreters have found Jesus in Esther? How would they have located Esther in the history of salvation culminating in Christ? We’re mostly on our own here.
There is, however, one powerful Christian interpretation of the book of Esther produced in the the twentieth century. The author is Bible teacher W. Ian Thomas, in his 1967 book If I Perish, I Perish: The Christian Life as Seen in Esther. It is an unashamedly allegorical interpretation, for which Thomas gives a brief justification in the first chapter: “…allthough there is in my mind absolutely no doubt as to the historical accuracy or divine authorship of the Book of Esther, I shall be using the story as an allegory to clarify and illustrate spiritual truths soundly established and substantiated elsewhere in the Bible, and all of which must be entirely compatible with the total revelation given to us by the Holy Spirit in the whole of the Scriptures.”
I recommend the book because Thomas’ simple and direct writing style is something I find constantly cheering. Also, Ian Thomas is a treasure, and this book presents his characteristic teaching on the Christian life exceptionally well –it’s a well-balanced variety of Keswick holiness teaching.
But here is the allegorical core of the book: The kingdom of Ahasuerus is you. Its 127 provinces are your body in its extension, and the city of Susa is the control center. King Ahasuerus on the throne is your soul in command of all you are, and Queen Esther is your human spirit. Stay with me here. Haman the Agagite (descendent of Amalek with whom God has sworn to be at war from generation to generation) is what the New Testament calls the flesh, that carnal “perverted principle which perpetuates in man Satan’s proud hostility and enmity against God.” Mordecai is the Person of the Holy Spirit.
The issue in the book of Esther is who will act as prime minister in the city of Susa. Who has the king’s ring on his finger, and who is the advisor who directs all the king’s affairs? “For,” Thomas paraphrases Paul, “to be Haman minded is death; but to be Mordecai minded is life and peace.” Haman the Agagite seeks his own advancement, despises God’s people, and cannot abide the presence of Mordecai.
The allegorical exposition spreads out from here: Just as Mordecai’s way of access to Ahaseurus is through Esther by adoption, the Holy Spirit’s route to the human soul is through adoption and indwelling in the human spirit, which is vitally united to the human soul.
And the crux of the book, signified in the title “If I perish, I perish,” is Esther’s reckoning of herself as dead. When the Queen crossed the threshold into the royal presence, she passed a death sentence on herself. No trial was needed, she was as good as dead except for royal intervention to the contrary. Thomas provides a little internal monologue that Esther could quite reasonably have had:
If Haman is as wicked and cunning as Mordecai makes him out to be, then at all costs I must survive, for I am indispensable to my people. Maybe I can outwit him; beat him at his own game and thwart his ugly plans — or maybe there’s a better side to his character that needs to be encouraged. Perhaps, after all, there is some good in him that Mordecai has overlooked. But to die –self-sentenced! No! There must be some more reasonable alternative to death.
But Esther did not think this way. She counted herself spiritually dead, and on the third day she entered the presence of the king, and received favor. After that, Mordecai took over and a strange providence worked its way through the story. Esther ends with Mordecai as prime minister and Haman executed. As Thomas concludes, only Jesus Christ can “put the noose around Haman’s neck,” and “it is He alone who, by His Holy Spirit, the Greater Mordecai, can put hiim and keep him where he belongs… Consent to die to all that you are which does not derive from all that Christ is, and thank Him for His willingness to make it real in your experience. Then… life will have become the adventure God intended it to be, and though a thousand Hamans may beset you, dead to yourself and alive to God, you will share the life of Jesus Christ and you will share His victory.”
“In the face of death itself, that duty might be done, you will echo with Esther of old –‘If I perish, I perish! God take the consequences!’ And He will!”